Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Not ageing well . . .

A month ago, when the public health community was warning about the dangers of premature opening and our reality show President was turning mask-wearing into a culture war issue, David Henderson and Jonathan Lipow decided to use precious space on the Wall Street Journal op ed page to publish an essay titled “The Data Are In: It’s Time for Major Reopening” (ungated at the link).  They argue that “populationwide lockdowns should end” and even suggest that social distancing has been harmful.  OK, then, I guess there’s no need to second-guess re-opening bars in Florida or Arizona.  And no need to worry about testing and contact tracing, despite the fact that one of the papers they cite to support their position recommends it.  And no need to tear our hair out worrying about masks.  It’s all good.

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The First Steps . . .

As posted by Anne:

Pope Francis

“All dictatorships, all of them, began like this, by adulterating communication, by putting communications in the hands of people without scruples, of governments without scruples.”

June 18, 2018 Morning Mass, Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis Dictatorships begin with taking over media to spread lies and handing it over to a firm, a business that slanders, tells lies, weakens democracy, and then the judges come to judge these weakened institutions, these destroyed, condemned people.

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Me Worthies

Me Worthies

by

Ken Melvin

If 40% of Americans think like Trump thinks, is America worth saving? At his rallies, we see C-SPAN shots of mostly overweight middle-aged and somewhat older whites; so we certainly can’t blame his ascendancy on recent immigrants. As Walt’s Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pretty good bet that Trump is both a narcissist and a sociopath. And his supporters, they too? No doubt some of his supporters care more about the stock market than they do about America or Trump, but what about the rest? What do they care about?

Since when did middle-aged bikers, those who watch reality TV shows like The Apprentice, and those who watch Professional Wrestling, represent the best in America? And, why do biker gang members look just like the armed right-wing, white-supremacist, militia members? And how is it that today’s bikers look just like those from the 70s? — Those brave road marauders who, in bunches of 7, 8, 9, 10, -20 rode alongside our cars and ogled our wives? How is that this lot, too, is mostly overweight middle-aged whites. These are not Baby Boomers. These are the children of the Baby Boomers! Is there something going on in the US gene pool that we don’t know about? This definitely something science and journalism need to look into. If JFK inspired the best and the brightest, who are these that Trump has inspired?

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Philly-Area Charters Collect $30 Million+ in PPP Funding

(Dan here…via Diane Ravitch’s blog…)

Philly-Area Charters Collect $30 Million+ in PPP Funding

by dianeravitch

Charters in the Philadelphia area received more than $30 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, while public schools in Philadelphia continue to be systematically underfunded. The big winner in the PPP sweepstakes is the for-profit Chester Community Charter School, owned by a major Republican donor and billionaire.
One of the largest loans, between $5 million and $10 million, went to Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), which is operated by a for-profit management company owned by wealthy Republican donor Vahan Gureghian.
The loan was received by Archway Charter School of Chester, Inc., which is the nonprofit name for CCCS under which it files its 990 tax form.
The CCCS charter already received more than $2.5 million from the CARES Act, intended for public schools. So CCCS, which aims for a complete takeover and privatization of its district, is funded both as a “public school” and a small business.

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Differences

Differences

by Ken Melvin

… He said I have no opinion about this

And I have no opinion about that

Asked an Honors History Class what they thought was the most important issue facing America. In an earlier period, Patrick, a kid from Africa, responded, “our differences.” In a later period, a black female, in a plaintive voice, responded, “we are different.”

Indeed. We are a world of people with many differences: different politics, different religions, … different cultures. Not just here; worldwide, humans are wrestling with this question: How to live with our differences? Can we humans, after all our centuries, change enough? Change enough to accept our differences?

The importance of these questions came to the fore with the recent onslaught of immigration into Europe and has since played out in referenda/elections throughout Europe and the United States. The pending further, and of greater scale, dislocations caused by global warming/climate change and globalization, makes their answering imperative. Plus: What will resulting cultures look like? At what point does an existing culture become more like that of the immigrant? What is the tipping point? Can the center hold?

Over the past 20 years, really quite late, much of our nation has come to believe that someone else’s sexuality is really none of our business. We, as a nation, now accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, LGBT, people as they are. Not ignore them, not tolerate them, not demand that they change; but accept them as they are. Yet, there are still regions of America, sectors of the population, where a majority of the people think that they know how people should act, should think, … that they have the right to demand that others change.

 

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Going Too Far

Going Too Far

Unfortunately, it was going to happen, and we who support the movement need to call out those instances where it goes too far.  I am talking about the justified Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, mostly characterized by widespread peaceful protests even in small rural towns that never see such things, and with a solid majority of the American people currently supporting both the BLM and its main demands.  As it is, one should probably not tie the BLM to some of these recent unacceptable events, although those engaged in them will justify their actions as being part of the movement. This should not be accepted.

OK, the one that has really put me off happened last night at sometime after 10:30 PM in Madison, Wisconsin.  A statue I know well was not only pulled down, but it was decapitated with both parts thrown in a nearby lake, although apparently since recovered. This statue stood on the east corner of the Capitol Square downtown.  It is of Hans Christian Heg (1829-1863).  An immigrant from Norway, he was an active anti-slavery abolitionist and member of the Free Soil Party who led the 15th Scandinavian American regiment in the Union army.  He died fighting against the Confederacy in the Battle of Chickamauga, which it says on the base of his statue.  There is absolutely no justification for this event.

This was accompanied by other pretty unacceptable nonsense. The “Forward” statue at the opposite end of the square was also pulled down and dragged down State Street.  This is of a generic woman representing the state motto of “Forward,” not quite as completely insane as pulling down Heg, but also without any obvious justification. The Forward motto and idea has long been associated with the Progressive tradition in the state, although I suppose one could drag in bad stuff about some of those folks, such as that some supported eugenics. But I do not think this crowd was thinking about that.

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On Choosing a Belief System

On Choosing a Belief System

by

Ken Melvin

Belief Systems, these prisms through which we view the world, have been around from our earliest days. Not so long ago, the Ancient Greeks separated the concept of what we might call belief into two concepts: pistis and doxa with pistis referring to trust and confidence (notably akin the regard accorded science) and doxa referring to opinion and acceptance (more akin the regard accorded cultural norms).

In quest of a personal Belief System, should one: Go with the flow and adapt to the Social or Cultural Norm? Follow the Abrahamic admonishment to first believe? Follow their own Reasoning? Or, should one look to Science?

Social or Cultural Norms are standards for behavior engendered from infancy by parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, and others in one’s life. Social Norms are the shared expectations and rules that guide the behavior of people within social groups; Social Norms can go a long way toward maintaining social order. Engendered, Social or Cultural Norms can be enforced by something as subtle as a gesture, a look, or even the absence of any response at all. At the extremes, aberrant social behavior becomes a crime. One could adopt Social Norms as a part or all of their Belief System.

Most modern Religions are handed down from times long past, times before much was known about anything. Most, if not all, early Religions were based on mythology. Later on, some Religions found more of their basis in whatever evidence and reasoning skills were available to a people. From the earliest times, human cultures have developed some form or another of a Belief System premised on Religion.

Humans are, uniquely it seems, given the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking in an orderly rational way; they are given the faculty of Reason. To Reason is to use the faculty of Reason so as to arrive at conclusions; to discover, formulate, or conclude by way of a carefully Reasoned Analysis. One might base a part or all of their Belief System on Reason.

 

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“The Boss” Tells Trump . . .

Springsteen: “I had another show prepared for broadcast this week on this strange and eventful summer, but with 100,000+ Americans dying over the last few months and the empty, shamed response from our leaders, I’ve been simply pissed off.  Those lives deserved better than just being inconvenient statistics for our President’s re-election efforts. It’s a national disgrace.

If you haven’t noticed, President Trump—or anyone in the White House, really—hasn’t been entirely diligent in wearing a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Boss? He definitely noticed. And he let Trump know it.

I’m going to start out by sending one to the man sitting behind the resolute desk. With all respect, sir, show some consideration and care for your countrymen and your country. Put on a f**king mask.

“So instead of celebrating the joys of summer today, we will be contemplating on our current circumstances with the coronavirus and the cost that it has drawn from our nation. We will be calculating what we’ve lost, sending prayers for the deceased, and the families they’ve left behind.”

H/T: Yves’s Links 06/20/2020 at Naked Capitalism; Bruce Springsteen to Donald Trump: ‘Put On a F**king Mask’

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Do BLM Protests Prove No More Pandemic?

Do BLM Protests Prove No More Pandemic?

It has become a widespread meme that the many protests over the murder of George Floyd and other racially based police brutality will show that it is fine to end all shutdowns related to the pandemic and end all rules about social distancing and wearing face masks.  Here we are reaching two weeks since these protests with thousands of people involved, supposedly all violating those rules, and we are not seeing a surge of Covid-19 cases coming out of the locations where these big protests have happened.

Well, it turns out, that while the reports are scattered, apparently at many of the protests many people wear face masks, not only that, there is apparently a lot of trying to keep some distance from each other as well, although based on the performance of nations in East Asia, it is pretty clear that the wearing of face masks is the most useful.  Among other cities with large protests where this has been observed is Philadelphia. But in many places there has been much urging of this.

It is a mere anecdote, but I can report that I attended one such protest, admittedly in peaceful Harrisonburg, VA where I live where we have a black mayor and a black police chief.  But I attended a peaceful protest with over 1000 people.  Almost everybody was wearing a mask, and most people were keeping distance from each other.  There has been a lot of this.

So, this meme widely spouted with great arrogance by many observers is just misleading.  It is quite likely we shall see no spike of cases following most of these protests, although possibly in some locations.  But that does not mean this will hold for places where reopenings coincide with lots of people imitating our president and not wearing face masks or maintaining social distancing.  And indeed, we are seeing surges of cases in many such states, with the vast majority of those being where we have seen such attitudes and policies.

Barkley Rosser

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Echoes and contrasts with 1968

Echoes and contrasts with 1968

 – by New Deal democrat 

As I mention from time to time, I am a fossil. I am old enough to remember 1968, when I was a politically precocious teenybopper. In the past week, I have read a number of commentaries wondering if this year is similar. In short: yes.

In 1968 it appeared that the world was spiraling out of control. The Vietnam war was at its height, with 300 soldiers killed every week. Protests against the war were also reaching a crescendo, one that reached its apex during the Democratic Convention in Chicago, which was later described as a “police riot” that, among other things, targeted journalists. That was just a few weeks after the Soviet Army rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring” of a progressive socialist government.
There were also race riots in medium and big US cities throughout the country. The police were called in to crack down on looting and vandalism, particularly following the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
While we don’t have a foreign war, we do have a pandemic that has uniquely been allowed to grow out of control in the US. We have China making moves in Hong Kong and the border with India. We have massive demonstrations, with some sporadic violence, following yet another  death of a black man at the hands of heavy-handed police tactics. The President has called in the military against its own citizenry.
But there are also two important differences. The first is that the pervasive videoing of police tactics has caused what one writer is calling “The Great Awokening” among most white people, who have seen convincing evidence of racial profiling by police and worse, killings of African Americans by police for things as trivial as a boy having a toy gun in a park.
This “Great Awokening” is shown by two charts below. The first shows attitudes towards violence by vs. towards police:

 

Even whites view violence *by* the police as a bigger problem than violence *towards* the police.

The second shows that the public does not approve of Trump’s handling of the protests in the past week (I’ve truncated the chart to take out views by employment and a few other items):

 

Only Evangelicals and rural areas show higher rates of approval (good, very good, and excellent) compared with disapproval (poor). Interesting, whites are not broken out separately.
The second contrast with 1968 is that the person calling for “law and order” is the incumbent. In 1968 the President, both Houses of Congress, most State governments and big cities were run by Democrats. Nixon, a Republican, was running against them. Now Trump and the GOP control the Presidency, Senate, and a majority of Statehouses. And when civil order breaks down, the public blames the incumbent party, not the insurgents.
I have no idea how everything will ultimately play out, but I do believe the images of the US military being called into action against peaceful demonstrators in Washington DC is going to leave a very sour taste. I do suspect that, like 1968, there will be a watershed passing of the political order of the old guard.

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